City of Laodicea
Laodicea was a prosperous city; probably the wealthiest in the area due in part to the banking industry which was one of the features of the city. Their wealth was so great that it has been recorded that after an earthquake in 607 AD the city rebuilt without any financial assistance from Rome. Another contributing factor to the cities wealth was that the country side was perfect for raising sheep and the area gained great wealth from the soft black wool of their sheep.
It was also well known for its medical school. The school of physicians followed the teachings of Herophilos who believed compound diseases require compound medicines. He would create mixtures of medicines including ointment for ears, and an eye salve made from a mixture of power and oil.
The city was located in an area where there were not many natural resources so they had to bring water to the city from springs about six miles away through a system of stone pipes. During dry seasons it was not uncommon for the city to be left in a vulnerable and dangerous state.
The Letter to the Church in Laodicea
The Church in Laodicea, like the Church of Sardis, receives no word of praise or commendation from Jesus. If you recall in the previous devotional I mentioned that most churches (if not all) either think they are or want to be like the Church of Philadelphia. Who wouldn’t want to receive the wonderful praises of Jesus? Well just the opposite is true of Laodicea. I have found just as many churches refuse to believe or want to be likened to the Church of Laodicea and for good reason.
Verse 14: “The words of the Amen…” – This is a reference to Jesus.
Amen – So be it, trustworthy, firm. It is an expression of absolute confidence and trust. When used at the beginning of a discourse it means “truly, truly or of truth”. At the end means, “So be it, so it is, may it be fulfilled.” When we use this word (generally at the conclusion) in our prayers we are declaring that we put absolute trust and confidence in the one we are praying to. The word is almost identical to Hebrew word that means “believe” or “faithful”.
“the faithful and true witness” – This is a reference to Revelation 1:5 where it declares Jesus as the faithful witness.
“the beginning of God’s creation” – (The Alpha) – This is a reference to Colossians 1:15, 18 where Paul writes that Jesus is the firstborn of all creation and He is the Beginning. We also see in Revelation 22:13 where Jesus declares, “I am the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last, beginning and the end.” Jesus is beginning and He is end and he is the absolute trustworthy, faithful and true witness. Nothing exists before him and nothing can exist after him and nothing is more trustworthy or deserving of trust than Jesus. He is all… He is eternal.
Verse 15: “I know your works…” Once again Jesus declares (as with the letters to all the churches) that he is familiar with their works. He is actively watching their deeds. Unfortunately in Laodicea’s case their works are not pleasing to Jesus. In fact they are repulsive as we will soon see.
“you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot!” The Church in Laodicea is an ineffective church at best. They are neither cold nor hot.
- Cold – of cool water OR it can be a metaphor for sluggish. Some can take this to mean that this church was frigid and sluggish in their faith. However I believe that it can be connected to positive sense in cool waters that bring refreshment.
- Hot – boiling hot. Kills germs and could be used for medicinal purposes.
“The adjectives “hot”, “cold” and “lukewarm” are not necessarily to be taken as describing spiritual fervor (or lack of it) of people.” The contrast is between the hot medicinal waters of Heiropolis and the cold, pure waters of Colosse. Thus the church in Laodicea was ‘providing neither refreshment for the spiritually weary, nor healing for the spiritually sick.’”
Because they were lukewarm Jesus’ response is much like ours when we partake of something that is lukewarm (especially when you are expecting a hot or cold item).
“I will spit you out of my mouth” - Spew, vomit or throw up. Their sluggish and ineffective faith made Jesus want to vomit. These are very graphic words (and a very vivid visual). Because they were spiritually ineffective this was repulsive to Jesus and it made him sick.
Verse 17: (Their perception) “I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing” – Since the Church was in a prosperous city it is believed that the church was probably a wealthy church. Unfortunately the people thought that since they were experiencing prosperity that God was ok with them (a common fallacy even today). They believed he was blessing them or probably more likely they weren’t even seeking the counsel of God at all. This seems all to true of people and churches of great financial wealth. They begin believe that all is good and God is ok with them or maybe even blessing them. They all but forget about God in their and their attitude becomes more like this, “He doesn’t need to be active here because there are so many other churches that are struggling and need his assistance. Don’t bother with us Jesus we got everything under control.”
The reality is that Jesus was telling them different. “not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked.” In their prosperity they failed to see the truth… “We are not all we thought we were. We may be rich financially but Jesus isn’t pleased with us at all. In fact we are making him sick.”
Verse 18: (What the Church needs to do) “buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich.” Because of their spiritual depravity Jesus counsels them to take their eyes off of their physical wealth and invest in Spiritual wealth. The purchase, so to speak, is to be made from Jesus himself because only he can provide the true wealth and health they need. If they do this then they will become truly rich.
“and white garments so you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen.” Certainly the individuals were well dressed because of their wealth. This may have given the illusion that they had everything together spiritually. However Jesus says they are naked and pitiful. The white robes symbolize righteousness and the covering of their nakedness is symbolic of judgment. Jesus tells them to invest in these garments of white so they will be clothed in righteousness and escape judgment.
“and salve to anoint your eyes.” Certainly this is in reference to the school of medicine and Herophilos. The Laodicean church is spiritually blind. They cannot see the spiritual state they are in. Jesus counsels them to get eye salve from him and anoint their eyes. Quit trusting in the remedies of man and trust Jesus. When this happens then you will truly see.
Verse 19: Jesus is not turning his back on this church. He loves the Church of Laodicea; certainly he is not pleased with them but he tells them, “I am telling you to do this because I love you. You may think I am being a harsh and mean God but I am telling you this for your own good.” Overall Jesus is admonishing the Church of Laodicea to wake up from their spiritually dead and ineffective state and seek him so they may be a church that is pleasing to Him and share in his glory. He tells them to be zealous (desire earnestly or strive after) for Him and repent.
Verse 20: “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door; I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me.” Jesus is addressing the believers in this congregation. The text suggests that Jesus has been at the door for some time. It also implies that he is continually knocking, patiently, waiting to be invited in. He is at the threshold of their lives and church calling for them to open the door of repentance so that he may come in and have true fellowship with them once again.
“If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him and he with me.” If the believers at Laodicea will heed to his knocking he will then enter once again and sit at the table of fellowship. It seems as though Jesus will be the guest and not the host. In the Middle Eastern culture eating a meal together is a sign of intimacy and trust. I believe the main idea behind this particular passage is Jesus’ desires to restore fellowship with the Laodicean believers and him. This can only happen through repentance, heeding to the call and responding to the knocking of Jesus that would ultimately lead to them being effective followers of Jesus Christ and of his Kingdom.
Verse 21,22: The continued promise to those who conquer or are victorious as they participate with Jesus in his sovereign rule. This is the promise given to all the churches (and individuals) who heed the words of Jesus in the letters to these churches.
The Church of Laodicea for us Today
The one thing a church does not want to be known for is their ineffectiveness. The Church has a glorious calling to be the light of the world, to represent Jesus to the nations and to be the hands and feet of Christ. To be considered tepid or ineffective by Jesus should be cause for concern for not only the Church in Laodicea but for us today. As a pastor I feel it has been necessary to evaluate where my church stands in the eyes of Jesus according to this letter. Are we cool waters that bring refreshment to the spiritually weary? Are we hot medicinal waters that bring about spiritual healing? Are we warm tepid water that is essentially useless and ineffective and infected with germs that cause harmful results?
How about you personally? How would you evaluate your personal relationship with Jesus in comparison to his words to the Church in Laodicea? Are you under the false impression that you have everything you need when in fact you are blind, poor, wretched and naked? Are you spiritually bankrupt? Is Jesus standing at the threshold of your life calling you back to fellowship with him? Bring your spiritual destitution to Jesus be zealous and repent. Personally I believe Jesus stands at the threshold of all of our lives and desires to come and dine and fellowship with him. He wants intimacy with you. He desires for you to commune and converse with him. The fact is Jesus loves you and wants to restore or resume fellowship with you once again. He desires to sit and sup with you at the table of fellowship. As a follower of Jesus, how will you respond to his knocking?
 The New International Commentary on the New Testament: Revelation (1977) Mounce, Robert: Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing. P. 125